I sit in the airy room of Kruger National Parks recently opened Skukuza Science Leadership Initiative (SSLI) a centre established as a collaboration between the Organisation for Tropical Studies, the South African National Parks and the Nsasani trust. I’m part of a team of scientists looking at how to strengthen the collaboration between All Out Africa, University of Swaziland (UNISWA), University of Florida, the Organisation for Tropical Studies (OTS), South African National Parks and the Nsasani trust. From All Out Africa’s perspective, this is an extension of our Savannah Research Program established in Swaziland but building collaboration to expand this work into Kruger. The goal is to set up a series of long term fenced plots in Kruger to exclude elephant and other large animals, to see what the effect of doing so is on the plants and smaller animals that are found in this area. For example, if we exclude elephant, rhino, hippo and giraffe from an area that used to have them (a plot in Kruger) how does the vegetation change as a result, and what changes happen in the rodent, bird, bat and small predator communities? What does this mean for the way the ecosystem functions (e.g. nutrient cycling, pollination, seed dispersal)? What does this mean for the services we humans derive from the ecosystem?
Why is this of interest? Well, having killed or chased off most large animals (megafauna) from areas that we humans use (most of the planet!), investigating the change this causes is important in understanding the effects we are having on the planet.
Why bother, you may ask? Did you know that the total mass of all wild animals on earth larger than a rabbit (that’s everything from porcupines to elephants and sting rays to whales) is less than 1/10th the mass of humans & domestic livestock? Did you know we are in the middle of the biggest extinction event since the dinosaurs were wiped of the face of the earth, and it is caused by humans? We are systematically obliterating natural life on earth to feed & house our growing population with an expanding appetite for consumption and if something doesn’t change we will unwittingly “cook the goose that lays the golden eggs” and send ourselves the way of the dinosaurs.
How do we prevent this catastrophe? We need to change mind-sets and actions, and to do this requires many small steps that multiply over time. Imagine a centre that enables field research to understand deeply the mechanisms of biodiversity loss and human induced ecosystem change in one of the most critical regions of high biodiversity and growing human population and development. Imagine this centre creates an ethos of collaboration and acting responsibly towards the environment through training and inspiring future conservationists. You don’t have to imagine it, we’ve already created it and it’s called the Savannah Research Centre(www.savannahresearch.org). Based at this centre working with UNISWA and the University of Florida, All Out Africa is implementing a long term investigation of how we humans are influencing the savannah ecosystem by studying the changes in biodiversity across a range of protected areas and other more intensively used landscapes. We do so by surveying rodents, birds, bats, ungulates, predators and vegetation using consistent methods in a repeated series of permanent sites spread out across the landscape. In the process we are also training and inspiring African and international students who will become future protagonists for the environment and conservation of wildlife. Could this create the change that’s needed to turn the tide on our seeping catastrophe? We certainly hope so!
The workshop held in Kruger was one step in this process, and an exciting one, which hopefully will bear fruit for our planets flailing wildlife.
If you would like to join with our current conservation efforts in Swaziland, check out our Savannah Conservation Project for more information about how you can become a volunteer!
Written by Kim Roques | All Out Africa Co-Founder